Is Trump Seeing Mid-East Countries to Combat Religious Extremism, or Visiting Religious Sites to Promote Coexistence?

On May 4, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that he will visit the Middle East. He saidThe purpose of this meeting is to bring together all the different countries and all the different religions in the fight against intolerance and to defeat radicalism.” The destinations on the trip included the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Israel and the Vatican. The GOALS of the visit were to fight against intolerance and radicalism.


President Trump announcing intention to visit the Middle East
May 4, 2017

Can Trump “bring together” the countries and religions in such an effort?

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

KSA is just one of 50 Muslim-majority countries, so Trump could have visited any of the fifty to make a point of connecting with Islam.

But KSA has a number of key attributes that the other Islamic countries do not have:

  • It holds the two holiest sites for Islam, Mecca and Medina
  • It is a US ally, compared to several Muslim countries that are not
  • It is a major opponent to Iran, which is a US-designated state-sponsor of terrorism
  • KSA has received billions of dollars in US military equipment and is engaged in joint strikes against targets in war zones like Yemen

Trump will not get to visit Mecca or Medina, the central places holy to Muslims because KSA forbids non-Muslims from visiting the Islamic holy sites. However, his meeting with the custodian of the holy sites – the KSA royal family – will make clear that the trip is not simply a visit to any Muslim country, but one that is willing to fight alongside America.

Is KSA a repressive regime? No question. It’s human rights record is appalling and many Trump critics think it outrageous to give the royal family such honor. But Trump made clear in his remarks:

“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism, and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East.”

Trump’s focus is narrow: the war on terror. However, KSA is actually a supporter of Wahabism and radical Islam. It happens to be a foe of Iran which earned its designation of a sponsor of terrorism well before it got involved in regional wars in Syria and Yemen, wars in which KSA is opposing Iran.

In visiting KSA, Trump will be visiting a country that is both a custodian of religious holy sites and a military partner. He will not get to visit religious sites nor showcase religious tolerance.

The Vatican

There are dozens of countries with a majority of Christians that Trump could have visited. And the Vatican isn’t even a country according to the UN.

But Catholicism is the largest of the Christian denominations, and the Pope is unique in being a central figure of a church. No other single individual has a command over such a flock.

While the Pope has no army to engage in a military battle against violent extremism, his message of tolerance is one that Trump seeks to connect with and spread throughout the world.

Israel

There is only one Jewish majority state, which makes the choice of Israel apparently simple in rounding out the Trump tour of the monotheistic faiths. In the other two countries with a significant Jewish populations – the United States and France – the Jews make up just a small percentage of the overall population, 2.1% and 0.8%, respectively.

For many decades, Israel has been America’s closest ally in the entire Middle East. It is the only true democracy in the region and Americans and Israelis share many of the same values. Israel has also been an important ally for the US in the ongoing War on Terror.

But there are large differences between Israel and the other stops on Trump’s trip:

  • Israel is the only country in Trump’s Mideast tour to tamper radicalism, that suffers from ongoing terrorism
  • Israel is the only country that had the (former) United Nations Secretary General stand up and state that he supports a terrorist regime (Hamas) and their inclusion in a Palestinian Authority government
  • The Jewish State is the only country where the world doesn’t recognize its holiest location and where the Muslim Waqf forbids Jewish prayer.

Israel promotes religious tolerance but receives none. It does this while confronting ongoing terrorism.

Trump will visit the holiest site in Judaism accesible to Jewish prayer today – the western wall of the Jewish Temple Mount. But he will do so WITHOUT Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the US is not comfortable stating that the Jewish state is the custodian of the religion’s holiest site.

It is an interesting backdrop on which to draw further comparisons.

The War on Religious Radicals and
the Promotion of Religious Tolerance

As Trump navigates the Middle East, he will attempt to promote two messages: of religious tolerance and of the battle to stamp out religious violence.

Religious Tolerance:

  • Saudi Arabia is 100% Muslim and the Vatican is 100% Christian. Only in Israel is there a mix of religions (75% Jewish and 25% non-Jewish)
  • Saudi Arabia restricts access to its holy sites only to Muslims. The Vatican welcomes all religions to the city. In Jerusalem, the Islamic Waqf which is overseen by Jordan, prohibits Jews from praying at its holiest site, the Temple Mount.
  • Saudi Arabia restricts bringing religious artifacts like a cross or Jewish bible into the country. The Vatican and Israel have no such restrictions.

The list goes on. Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia clearly has nothing to do with rewarding it for promoting religious tolerance. Perhaps that is an aspiration. Israel is the prime example of religious tolerance to be emulated in the Middle East

War on Radicalism:

  • In the attacks of 9/11/01, fifteen of the 19 terrorists were from KSA. Saudi Arabia continues to fund a radical form of Islam in schools around the world. For its part, the Catholic Church tries to convert people to Catholicism, but not by force and it does not promote violence. Israel and the Jewish State do not attempt to convert anyone in any manner and is not engaged in terrorist activities around the world.
  • Saudi Arabia does not fight radical Islam; it fights Iran and the Islamic State as discrete entities in an ongoing war between Sunni and Shia Islam. The Vatican has no army to participate in any war. For its part, Israel is actively fighting terrorism in its homeland, principally against an enemy that is rabidly anti-Semitic that wants to rid the region of Jews.

In short, only in Israel will Trump find both a partner in promoting religious tolerance and a partner in combatting violent religious extremism. Only in Israel will Trump see a people that faces terrorism on a daily basis.

Together:

Trump stated that he sought to bring parties “together.” With the exception of Egypt and Jordan, the rest of the Arab countries have refused to recognize the legitmacy of the State of Israel. Perhaps Trump hopes that this initiative to eradicate radical jihadists will change that dynamic. It would appear to be wishful thinking: The Saudi royal family has funded the families of Palestinian terrorists for years.

 

These are important points for Trump to address during his Mideast visit. A key victory in advancing both agendas of combatting religious violence and promoting religious tolerance would be to get the Palestinian Authority to finally rip up the anti-Semitic law which calls for the death sentence for any Arab that sells land to a Jew. Nothing demonstrates the vileness of intolerance and radicalism as much as the Palestinian Land Law.


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A Seder in Jerusalem with Liberal Friends

I am “right-of-center” when it comes to politics about Israel. I firmly believe that Israel has unquestioned legal, moral and historic right to live as a free, independent, democratic Jewish state, and that the borders of such state should include the holiest city for Jews, the united city of Jerusalem as its capital for the previous reasons, as well as based on fundamental security needs.

This year, I had the fortune of celebrating my Peach seder in Jerusalem. My hosts were liberal friends that believe that the eastern part of the city – a few hundred feet from where we ate the festive dinner – should become the capital of a new state of Palestine. I was not sure how this fact would impact the seder: how would the meal remain a celebration and educational for the dozen children, while not ignoring the momentous 50-year jubilee of the united city without a contentious debate?

The Community Obligation

I tried to stay on safe ground.

Before Pesach each year, I purchase a new Haggadah to share some new thoughts at the seder. Knowing of the attendees at this year’s meal, I decided to buy Erica Brown’s “Seder Talk,” as I considered that her essays would appeal to the more progressive crowd (compared to past year selections of R. Soloveitchik, R. Lamm, Lord Sachs, Sfas Emes among others).

One of Brown’s essays discussed the basis for the seder’s “Four Sons.” She considered that the bible wrote in four different places the need to educate one’s children about the exodus from Egypt, and each mention correlated to a different type of child:

  • Exodus 12:26-27: And when your children ask you “What is this service to you?” you will say, “It is a Pesach offering for the Lord, for He passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt while He struck the Egyptians, but saved those in our homes.”
  • Exodus 13:8: And you shall explain to your son on that day, “Because of this the Lord acted for me when I came out of Egypt.”
  • Exodus 13:14: And when, in time to come, your son asks you saying, “What is this?” you shall say to him, “With a string hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the grip of slavery.”
  • Deuteronomy 6:20-21: When in time your children ask you, “What re the testimonies, the statutes and laws, that the Lord our God commanded you?” you shall say to your children, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Lord our God brought us out of there with a strong hand.”

The four different types of children in the Haggadah are the hacham (wise son), the rasha (evil son), the tam (simple son), and the she’eino yo’dea lish’ol (the one that doesn’t know how to ask). Brown wrote that the rabbis believed that the role of the parent is to explain to each child according to that child’s abilities. There are “four different recipients, whose learning needs vary. All must be told the story. All must learn it and be able to transmit it.

Brown continued that the mission to tell the story of the Exodus actually extends beyond parental responsibility. The Jerusalem Talmud used an alternative term for the “tam,” the simpleton, instead calling that son a “tipesh,” a stupid child.  Brown said that “the child of the Jerusalem Talmud is the child with limited mental capacity…. This child is a child of not only the family but of our entire community.” It is not only the responsibility of the parent to educate their own children, but in certain circumstances, it is also the obligation to assist others raising those kids. To make an important adjustment to the words of Hillary Clinton – it does not “take a village” to raise children – it is the responsibility of each parent to rear their own. However, there may be extraordinary circumstances in which the broader community should be involved in educating and raising a child with special needs.

I opted to end my comments there, as the reception at the seder was lukewarm. I do not think I won fans with terms for children of “stupid” and “mentally challenged,” even though the remarks were from Erica Brown herself. Had I continued with some extended thoughts of my own about community, it would have surely gone downhill.

The Community Declaration

Shortly after the description of the four sons, the Haggadah quotes and analyzes a different selection from the bible.

  • Deuteronomy 26: 5-8: [Then you shall declare before the Lord your God:] “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.  Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.

The Haggadah uses many pages to expound on these biblical verses, however, it does not give the context for the long history leading up to the exodus.

This declaration in Deuteronomy is ordered by God at the time of bikurim, the bringing of the first fruits in Jerusalem.

  • Deuteronomy 26: 1-2: When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it,  take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name

God demanded that the story of leaving Egypt be repeated in the chosen place of the chosen land for the chosen people: at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, in the heart of the Jewish holy land.

Nachmanides (1194-1270), also known as the Ramban considered the rationale of the bikurim commandment. Why would an offering of first fruits in the Jewish Temple be accompanied with the history leaving Egypt?

The Ramban noted that bikurim is ONLY made in public in Jerusalem; such an offering cannot be made on an individual basis. The personal declaration of thanks for the riches of the holy land is made before the entire community. The acknowledgement of the gifts of the holy land began with the exodus from Egypt, and is something that each person must publicly declare: my gift of fruit is simply a portion of our collective gifts: we are a nation that was collectively brought from Egypt to Jerusalem. The offered fruit is really the nation’s fruit, just as the freedom from slavery was a national liberation.

The bible and Haggadah are clear in the command to educate one’s own children, and Erica Brown noted the need of the community to also educate other children in the community about our freedom from slavery. We stand as part of the community helping individuals learn the lesson of God’s gifts.

But we also have a need to stand before the community to acknowledge God’s gifts to that same community. Those gifts extend beyond our freedom from slavery, to the gift of the holy land and its produce. And that declaration is to be made in Jerusalem on the Jewish Temple Mount.

Being part of the community means helping those in the community that need assistance. And that same community is also a witness to our public declarations as we internalize the message that our freedom and fruits of the holy land are gifts from God.

When left-wing radicals like the New Israel Fund rewrite the Haggadah from “Next Year in Jerusalem” to “Next Year in Palestine and Israel,” they are rewriting the centrality of God’s gifts and the role of our community. In doing so, have they rejected God’s gift and being part of our community? Or must the community not give up, and teach this wayward son (or tipesh) as well?


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Here in United Jerusalem’s Jubilee Year

Biblical Command to Come to Jerusalem

There are commandments in the bible that are clear and explicit, while there are others that are deduced by the rabbis. For example, “Do not kill” is easily understood, while the commandment to not eat dairy and meat together was derived by the rabbis from different parts of the bible.

The commandment for Jews to go to Jerusalem three times a year is a combination of both clear and deduced commandments.

1Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 3 Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. 4 Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning.

5 You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you 6 except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. 7 Roast it and eat it at the place the Lord your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents. 8 For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the Lord your God and do no work.

Passover in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:1-8)

9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

Shavuot in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:9-12)

13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

Sukkot in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)

16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.

Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)

There is no question that God commanded Jews to make a pilgrimage three times a year to “the place He will choose.” However, that place was not clearly specified by God and changed over time.

When Jews emerged from Egypt and came back to the holy land roughly 3300 years ago, they first set up the holy Tabernacle in the town of Shiloh in Samaria. It remained there for 369 years.

“The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control,”

(Joshua 18:1)

The Jews set up the “tent of meeting” in Shiloh and made their pilgrimages to Shiloh as directed in the bible. The Israelites themselves chose this location, which is not exactly what the text in the bible prescribed stating that God will choose the location. Presumably, the Jews chose Shiloh with divine inspiration and blessing.

After Shiloh was destroyed, the Tabernacle had temporary homes for fiftyseven years in Nob and Gibeon. When King David took over the leadership from King Saul around 1000BCE, he sought to unify the various tribes and establish a new capital. David seized the Jebusite city of Jerusalem which sat in the center of the kingdom. After David died, his son King Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there in 950BCE. From that time until the present day, it has been the center of Jewish worship.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem,
with thousands of Jews at the Kotel plaza on chol hamoed Pesach

The Incomplete Jerusalem

Whether the Jews were self-governing, or living under Assyrians, Greeks or Romans, Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was the focus of annual pilgrimages. That began to break down in 70CE.

The Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple in 70CE and then banned all Jews from the city in 135CE after the Bar Kochba Revolt. While Jews continued to live in the holy land, they could not visit Jerusalem.

Eventually Jews were allowed back to their holiest city, and they resumed pilgrimages even though there was no longer a Temple. But during the Christian Crusades in the 1200s, the Jews were evicted from Jerusalem again, and only able to reestablish themselves in the city in the middle of the 13th century. By the 1860s, Jews were the largest religious group in Jerusalem, exceeding both the number of Muslims and Christians, even while the city was under Ottoman rule.

That changed in 1949.

In 1948, five Arab armies invaded Israel after it declared its independence. At war’s end, the Jordanians went about an ethnic cleansing of the Jews in Jerusalem.

  • They evicted all of the Jews from the eastern half of the city, including the entire Old City
  • They destroyed over 100 synagogues in the Old City, including the Hurva Synagogue
  • They annexed the eastern half of the city in a move not recognized by most of the world
  • They established a land law which made it a capital offense for any Arab to sell land to a Jew
  • They gave Jordanian citizenship to all Arabs in the lands they annexed, and specifically excluded Jews from gaining citizenship
  • They refused to allow Jews to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Kotel and Temple Mount, even on holidays

From 1949 to 1967, anti-Semites ruled in Jerusalem, and the holiest place in the world for Jews was out-of-reach.

But that changed 50 years ago.

Jubilee is for Redemption

In June 1967 the Jordanians attacked Israel after Israel pre-emptively attacked Egypt and Syria in the Six Day War. The Jordanians lost all of the land that they had illegally annexed, including Judea and Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem.

Jews once again moved into their holy reunited city.

The bible notes that 50 years is a jubilee, a time of redemption.

8 Count off seven Sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years.  Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

13In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.”

50 years is freedom (Leviticus 25:8-13)

Fifty years ago Jews were able to walk their streets again, to rebuild their synagogues and live in their homes. The anti-Semitic Arab laws were nullified as the Jewish State proclaimed liberty in their holiest city.

Celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City
(photo: First.One.Through)

Just one week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a new town in Samaria near Shiloh, the first new development in decades. The new town is adjacent to the ancient Jewish holy site. A return and redemption of sorts, thousands of years later.

Passover starts next week around the world. The seder ends with a song “HaShana HaBa B’Yerushalyim,” “Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.” While there are still more obstacles to overcome in Jerusalem (such as the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount), the city has been revitalized and home to thousands of Jews.

Passover 2017 marks anniversaries of both the redemption of the Jews from being slaves, and the redemption of Jerusalem from being Judenrein. Celebrating Passover in Jerusalem is performing a mitzvah, a positive deed, which combines a clearly delineated action with those divinely inspired. God saved us, and blessed us when we took actions to celebrate His gifts.

Happy Passover from Jerusalem.


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The Reform Movement’s Rick Jacobs Has no Understanding of Tolerance

The various religious denominations in Judaism have coexisted peacefully in the United States for over one hundred years. Each denomination has very different viewpoints on the Torah and on acceptable practices and customs in matters of religious life. The choices each make are distinct, and they do not seek to control or influence how the other denominations choose to interpret or handle their religious lives. As such, the tolerance that each exhibits for the other is just a consequence, not a goal. The groups are not fighting over the same remote control. They lead parallel lives.

It is with this in mind that I note the various themes and calls for “tolerance” over the past months from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism.

Consider Rabbi Jacobs Chaunkah message.

Jacobs opens his message with a note from Dr. Shaye Cohen who claimed that the battle of the Hasmoneans “marks the first time in recorded history that a war was begun in defense of religious liberty and individual freedom of belief.” An interesting point from a Harvard professor with a PhD in Ancient History.

However, the comment was quickly misinterpreted by Jacobs. In the following paragraph he wrote that “The Maccabees fought the first battle for religious tolerance in history. (emphasis added).” That is a complete distortion of Cohen’s comment and of history.

judas_maccabeus_before_the_army_of_nicanor
Judah the Maccabee in battle

The story of Chanukah related to the Syrian Greeks trying to Hellenize the Jews over 2100 years ago. The Greeks did not seek to introduce another alternative form of religious practice into the Holy Land. They sought to replace Judaism by defiling the Jews’ religious places.  The fight was an ALL-OR-NONE proposition.

The reaction by the Hasmoneans was similar in nature. The fought back for “religious liberty” and to rid the land of pagan practices. They countered the defilement of the Temple with purifying the Temple. They responded to the introduction of pagan practices with its expulsion.  The last thing that Chanukah celebrated was “religious tolerance.” It was a battle between all-or-nones.

Reform’s View of Tolerance in Israel Today

Judea and Samaria

Rabbi Jacobs misunderstanding of tolerance stretches from his interpretation of history in the Holy Land from over 2000 years ago until today.

In November 2015, Jacobs addressed his reform movement’s biennial in a keynote address. In this important speech about the direction of Reform Judaism he said (at 24:30) “Our Reform Movement, we have long opposed Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank (applause). The occupation threatens the very Zionism we hold dear.” He declared that his religious movement opposed Jews living in parts of the Holy Land. Seemingly not very tolerant.

He continued: “- the living expression of a Jewish and democratic state. It causes pain and hardship to the Palestinians and alienates Israel from friends and allies around the world. Only two states for two peoples, both states viable and secure, living side-by-side in peace, will bring this tragic conflict to its long-awaited end (loud applause).” Jacobs argued for a tolerance achieved by separation. A divide into two distinct states. However, he really meant a specific state of Arabs which should have no Jews, and a second state of Israel with both Jews and Arabs (the “progressive” two state solution is 1.5 states for Arabs and 0.5 states for Jews).

It was a curious twist on tolerance, for a “progressive” to condemn a Jewish “settler” that sought to live in peace alongside Arabs.

The Kotel

Rabbi Jacobs comments in November 2015 seemed to come into conflict with his actions a few months later.

In July 2016, Rabbi Jacobs marched into the occupied territories and demanded rights for Reform Jews.

rick-jacobs-kotel
Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, center, participating in a prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 4, 2016. (photo: Courtesy of the URJ)

Rabbi Jacobs came to the Old City of Jerusalem to pray and advocate for new privileges for non-Orthodox Jews. He did not seem to care or notice that much of the world considers the Old City of Jerusalem to be occupied Palestinian territory. That same territory which he thinks should be under Palestinian Authority, a political agency which advocates against Jews living anywhere in the area and seeks to stop the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

His mind-bending views on “tolerance” continued as he led and advocated for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.

The Kotel is the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple Mount. It has was the area set aside by Suleiman I 450 years ago for Jews to pray, after he kicked them off of the Temple Mount itself. Since 1967, the area has functioned as an Orthodox synagogue, and only Orthodox prayer practices are allowed there.

Jacobs seeks to change that and demands the legality of non-Orthodox practices at the Western Wall.  He is not satisfied with non-Orthodox prayers happening at the Southern Wall (which is actually bigger and prettier), away from the Orthodox services. We wants the Orthodox to tolerate his practices at the Kotel.

This is quite a different approach than Jacobs applies in other situations.  Jacobs normally advocates for peace via separation; tolerance via parallel paths.  Yet when it comes to the Kotel, (in an area he thinks shouldn’t even be part of Israel), he has demanded to impose his practices in the space of others.

Real Tolerance in Israel Today

The story of Chanukah was a fight for “religious liberty.” The all-or-none approach of the Greeks was countered with an all-or-none purge by the Jews. Neither side sought “religious tolerance.”

Remarkably, Modern Israel has taken a different approach.

  • While the Arabs of the Middle East sought to stop Jewish immigration – even at the dawn of the Holocaust – Israel opted to grant 160,000 non-Jews Israeli citizenship when it declared a state in 1948.
  • Even though the Arabs expelled all of the Jews from the Old City of Jerusalem in 1949, after Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it handed religious control of the Jewish Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf.
  • Even though the Arabs continue to advocate for a Jew-free state, Israel has allowed all Arabs in Jerusalem to apply for Israeli citizenship since it annexed the eastern part of the city.

In a world where the all-or-none approach is typically met with an all-or-none response, Israel has shown remarkable tolerance and acceptance of “the other.”

Rabbi Jacobs chose to distort the meaning of Chanukah and turned it into a call for advocacy on behalf Muslims in Burma in a global fight for religious tolerance. It is a nice message, but one not found in Chanukah, and disconnected from his attitudes towards Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

Let’s celebrate the holiday of Chanukah and the miracle of Modern Israel. It is a story that liberals can enjoy without distorting history and the English language.


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Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

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The Countries that Acknowledge the Jewish Temple May Surprise You

The United Nations has been a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment for decades. Whether the issue was war, terrorism, blockades, the security barrier, peace talks, settlements, refugees, etc., the vast majority of countries have been very vocal and very critical of Israel.

The UN also has a long history of ignoring Jewish rights to their sacred sites, as described in “The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land.” The various countries in the UN had a chance to add their own voices to that history.

In the fall of 2015, Palestinian Arabs claimed that Jews were going to overrun the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and proceeded to kill and attempted to kill dozens of Israelis. Those events made the countries at the UN focus on discussing the Temple Mount itself. Their comments  on October 22, 2015 were interesting.

DSC_0087
The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount above the Kotel,
location of the First and Second Jewish Temples

(photo: FirstOneThrough)

A Muslim Holy Site

Not surprisingly, the Muslim countries referred to the Temple Mount as an exclusively Islamic holy spot.

  • State of Palestine” called the location the “Haram al Sharif,” the Muslim name for the Temple Mount.
  • Angola discussed the “Al Aqsa Mosque,” which is Islam’s third holiest spot, located on the southern tip of the Temple Mount
  • Qatar mentioned the “Holy Shrine

Some countries went further, and stressed that the Temple Mount compound was important only to Muslims.

  • Maldives stated Haram al-Sharif must be restored.  Israel must stop altering the Islamic and Arabic character of the city
  • Egypt noted that the “Holy Shrine was extremely important to more than one billion Muslims worldwide,” and said nothing about Jews
  • Iran called the site “Haram Al-Sharif, and called for respect for the rights of Muslim worshippers to pray at that site in peace.

Others were more extreme in their calls against Israel:

  • Saudi Arabia said that “Israel had failed to protect Islamic holy sites, demolished the gates of Haram al-Sharif and turned it into a prayer place for Jews.  Israeli extremists had set fire to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron
  • Kuwait described “attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque were an unprecedented assault against the inalienable religious rights of Muslims all over the world.   The OIC reiterated the historic and present Hashemite custodianship of the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, including Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
  • Morocco was alarmed at the situation of “Islamic holy sites. Jerusalem was the very essence of the Palestinian question and there could be no peace without clarifying the status of Al-Quds as capital of a Palestinian State.  Any harm brought against the Al-Aqsa mosque would heighten tensions.”

The surprise in the singular call of the Islamic character of the site, was that a single western country also only mentioned the Arabic and Muslim name for the site: the United Kingdom.

Just Holy Sites

Some countries avoided the controversy, like Spain, Chad, Nigeria, Norway, Korea and France, just referring to generic “holy sites.” Such language was impartial and neutral. That was perhaps logical in a tense and violent environment.

The Holy See mentioned that the location was sacred to “Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” An ACTIVELY balanced approach, which pulled all of the monotheistic religions to Jerusalem.

Turkey’s approach was a mix. Like the Holy See, it noted that “Jerusalem, a city sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, should be treated with the utmost respect.” But then went on to attack Israel’s practices at the site saying that Israel was “targeting holy sites and all other provocative activities undermining the status and sanctity of Haram al-Sharif must immediately stop.  The Jordanian role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem was crucial for the preservation of Haram al-Sharif as an Islamic sanctuary.”  It would appear that Turkey was willing to acknowledge the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews, just not the Temple Mount.

Most countries like: New Zealand; Venezuela; China; Chile; the United States; Russia; Sweden; Lebanon; Malaysia; Guatemala; Brazil; Japan; India; Bangladesh; Costa Rica; Kazakhstan; Iceland; Botswana; Sri Lanka; Bahrain; Cuba; and Pakistan did not mention the holy site itself.

Yes, that many countries weighed in about the situation in Israel.

Three Countries Recognize Judaism at the Temple Mount

In the long list of world condemnation, there was a silver lining, and it came from the unlikeliest of countries. Three countries besides Israel, referred to the platform as the Temple Mount, recognizing the history of Jews at the location and the sanctity of the spot in Judaism.

  • Lithuania, a country not known for being a strong Israeli ally, said that the “Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount was a sacred place for both Muslims and Jews.”
  • Ukraine mentioned the Al Aqsa mosque, but then also said “It was important for both parties to find the courage to respect holy places in accordance with the principles specified in the fundamental international documents, particularly those of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the agreements that regulated the status of the Temple Mount complex.”
  • Zimbabwe also said that “Access to the Temple Mount and other holy sites must be preserved under the status quo arrangements.”

These are not remarkable statements by these three countries on their face. But to consider that dozens of countries – including Israel’s allies – would not recognize the centrality of the Temple Mount to Judaism, does make their statements noteworthy.

Ukraine has a long history of anti-Semitism, but it was among the few countries that referred to the site by its historic Jewish name.  The three countries did go on to chastise Israel for actions on the Temple Mount, but at least they had the decency to not ignore Jews and Judaism also.

Six months later, in April 2016 in Paris, UNESCO itself weighed in that there was no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount when it drafted 40 points of rebuke against Israel, that only referred to the Jerusalem site by Islamic and Arabic names 19 times.  This was very deliberate, as seen when UNESCO went through the courtesy of referring to the common names of other Jewish holy sites in discussing “The two Palestinian sites of Al-Ḥaram Al Ibrāhīmī/Tomb of the Patriarchs in AlKhalīl/Hebron and the Bilāl Ibn Rabāḥ Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.”


Decades ago, several countries would not acknowledge the Jewish State, and many Arab countries to this day still refer to Israel as the “Zionist Entity.”  Much of the world is still so backwards, that it cannot even recognize the history of the Jewish people and the holiest spot for Judaism.

Send a note to the governments of Lithuania (misija.jt@urm.lt), Ukraine (uno_us@mfa.gov.ua) and Zimbabwe (zimbabwe@un.int) and let them know that their statements, while seemingly insignificant, meant a lot to a small nation with a little country in the middle of a hostile neighborhood and United Nations.

Consider sending a note to your home country and the UK (fax 212 745 9316)  as well, relaying your disappointment.  You are welcome to attach this article.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

Names and Narrative: CNN’s Temple Mount/ Al Aqsa Complex Inversion

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

Visitor Rights on the Temple Mount

The Arguments over Jerusalem

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The Jewish Holy Land

Roughly 3300 years ago, the Jews received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Those commandments were designed for all Jews to follow at all times, whether the positive commandments like respecting one’s parents, or the negative commandments like not murdering.

One of the positive commandments included a reason for the order: keeping the Sabbath:

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. “

Exodus 20:8-11

God told the Children of Israel to not work on the seventh day of the week, just as God rested on the seventh day when He created the entire world.  By doing so, He made that seventh day holy, and commanded the Jews to make it holy as well.

The other nine commandments did not have explanations; the commandments were simply stated such as “You shall not steal.”  The second commandment of not taking the name of the Lord in vain “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children…” reveals more about the ramifications of ignoring the commandment, when no such threat was made in the text for the Sabbath.

Jews were told to actively remember the Sabbath, so, in turn, they can actively remember God’s creations and His decision to stop, rest and make the seventh day holy. The reason is not so much of an explanation, as it was meant to focus what should be remembered.

Shmita

God gave the Jews other commandments beyond the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The Jewish tradition is that the Torah contains 613 commandments, all of which were given at Mount Sinai.  The sages conclude this from Leviticus 25, where God commands Jews to observe shmita on Mount Sinai. The biblical commentator Rashi (1040-1105) stated that clearly mentioning that such law was given on Mount Sinai was to show that all of the commandments were given there as well.

1The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

Leviticus 25:1-7

The commandment of shmita resembled the commandment of keeping the seventh day a day of rest.  In this case, the people may work the land for six years, but must not work the land on the seventh year, as the land must be given rest.  However, unlike the commandment for remembering the Sabbath day, the underlying reason for giving the land rest was not given.

Further, this commandment was localized to the Holy Land.  Only “when you enter the land I am going to give you,” when the Jews crossed the Jordan River, was the commandment relevant.

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Field in Israel declaring its observance of shmita in 2008
(photo: First.One.Through)

Nachmanides, or the Ramban (1194-1270), noted that there was a similarity of the Sabbath day and shmita when he wrote that shmita is about remembering this world and the world to come.  He derived that from Avos 5:9 which described that Jews would be punished with exile if they did not keep shmita. Ramban added  “whoever repudiates [shmita] shows that he does not acknowledge the truth of Creation and the World to Come.”

However, during his long explanation, the Ramban did not delve into the local nature of shmita.

Was the intention of the command’s preface to just let the Jews know that shmita was not necessary during the time from standing at Mount Sinai until they arrived in the Holy Land?  Or was there a message behind the land itself?

The Holy Land for the Jewish Nation

The commandment to observe Sabbath day became effective immediately when it was received on Mount Sinai.  Throughout the wanderings of the desert before they entered Israel, Jews kept the seventh day holy.  They did so, because they continued to live and benefit from God’s creations – even the desert itself.  Jews continue to observe Sabbath when they are not in the Holy Land for the same reason: the commandment’s underlying reason was to remember God’s creation of the entire world.

Was the commandment of shmita about memory too? Was it about remembering the “World to Come” as Ramban suggested?  If so, why did the commandment need to only be kept in Israel and needed to be delayed until they arrived in the Holy Land?

Perhaps the parallel of memory in the Sabbath day and shmita was not about “the truth of Creation and the World to Come,” but about God’s gift of the land of Israel to the Jewish people.

God included the reason of keeping the Sabbath day as a remembrance of the world’s creation within the command itself.  Keeping the Sabbath included remembering the story of creation.

In the commandment of shmita, maybe there was also an explanation inside the text: “the land that I am going to give you.”  It was not just an explanation of when to begin observing the law, but the reason of observing the law: the land was God’s gift to the children of Israel.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַיהֹוָה:

The Hebrew biblical text is different than God’s other promises of the promised land in the Torah.

  • When God promised the land to Abraham, it was described as “the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), not give you.
  • In Exodus chapter 3, God described leading the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey that is occupied by many other nations.
  • In Exodus chapter 33, God told the Jews to go to the land that He promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Only in Leviticus did God change the language as giving the land to the Children of Israel themselves (Leviticus 20:24).  It was a gift for them, not just a promise made to forefathers.

That is why the commandment is localized in the Holy Land.  The commandment is not to just let the land lie fallow every seven years, but like the Sabbath, it is to remember that the land is God’s gift to the Jewish people.  It would be an insult to that special present of Israel for Jews outside of land to celebrate shmita.

God’s gift of Israel to the Jewish people is not limited by time, but an eternal present.  That is why even on the seventh year, when Jews cannot work the land, they can still enjoy the fruits of the land.  The gift never stops, even while Jews pause to remember the gift itself.

Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

Like the Sabbath day that is commanded to Jews, but to be respected among non-Jews that live with Jews, so is God’s gift to the Jews of the land of Israel.  The fruits of such gift may be shared broadly among those living in the land together with the Jews.

Enjoy and actively remember the gift of the Holy Land every day.  Try not to wait every seven years.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

The Nation of Israel Prevails

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

“Flowing with Milk and Honey”

From Promised Land to Promised Home

Wearing Our Beliefs

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New Group, ZOFLAT, Takes on Shift in Modern Orthodoxy

A Satire

Several leading rabbis and lay leaders in the Modern Orthodox community have started a new group called, ZOFLAT, Zionist Orthodoxy For Living in America Today. The group is advocating for more American Jews to remain in the United States and not move to Israel.

“There has been a dramatic shift eastward,” noted staunch American leader Madison Lipshitz. “When I grew up, no one made aliyah (moved to Israel).  Today, almost all of my old friends live in Israel.  Those that have remained are almost exclusively not religious.”

The movement of American Jews to Israel is made predominantly by the Orthodox community according to recent surveys.  Very few Jews with Reform backgrounds make aliyah.

Queens College professor Lawrence Cohen noted that the trend of Orthodox aliyah gained momentum over the past 30 years, when American high school graduates from Modern Orthodox yeshivas began to spend their “gap” year before college in Israel.  Many of those students ultimately moved to Israel as adults.  “We’re losing kids, and it’s our own fault,” he noted.

The impact is being felt throughout the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area. Many families have left their homes and followed their children to Israel.  They can now be found in “Anglo” communities including Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem.  “We needed to do something to combat this trend,” explained Lipshitz.

IMG_2052
Young and old Americans at the Kotel
(photo: First.One.Through)

About a year ago, a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis, community leaders and educators formed the core of the new organization. The mission of the group was to show how religious Jews could live within the secular culture in America. “American Orthodox Jews are being silenced by the rise of Orthodox Jews living in Israel.  We needed to show that we are committed to the American way of life,” said founding Rabbi Freedom Lover, of Beautiful Beach Synagogue.  ZOFLAT’s stated goal is to flatline aliyah in Modern Orthodox America.

The first programs for ZOFLAT are being held in Manhattan near Washington Square Park this weekend.  American flags will be affixed to everyone’s nametag. Various prominent Jewish politicians will be speaking about Jews in American society.  Food will include hot dogs and baked beans and will specifically not feature shwarma and hummus.  An afternoon game of baseball is planned, depending on weather.  “We couldn’t wait for Memorial Day,” said Rabbi Lover, “the issue is now.”

“Too many people have been coerced into making aliyah or believing that living in Israel is the only way to live a meaningful life.  This group is dedicated towards showing that people should not be shamed or pushed aside because they don’t want to live in Israel,” added Rabbi Lover.

“I’m excited to come to ZOFLAT,” said Amy Schlessinger, a teacher in New York City, toting a Tony Burch bag.  “We need an organization that validates my lifestyle. America is the greatest country in the world, and just because of the Zionist shift of today’s youth, I shouldn’t be made to feel bad about my life choices.”

Rabbi Kenny Silverson, a principal of a local yeshiva, described the tension within the Modern Orthodox communities today. “The Judaism that is being lived today in Israel would be unrecognizable to my grandparents.  My own son moved to Israel and changed his last name. Our family name!” Rabbi Silverson, visibly upset, continued “still, we will try to be open-minded and have an open tent to those Orthodox Jews that move to Israel, but our raison d’être is to proudly defend those people that wish to remain in America and live the exact same lives that their parents and grandparents did.”

Rabbi Lover noted that he thought about developing this group after listening to various members of the Israeli Knesset describe there being no future for Jews living outside of Israel, which he found offensive.  Those comments by the Israeli leaders were made after terrorist attacks in Europe and the rise of anti-Semitism.

In 2008, Israel surpassed the United States as the largest Jewish community in the world.

“Modern Orthodoxy is facing a serious challenge,” Lover said. “The boundaries of the community cannot be dictated geographically.  We want to have flourishing communities throughout America without any guilt.  Having an organization with a great acronym should allay any feelings of self-doubt, ideally, cemented with a small donation and dues to our events.”

Hand-in-Pocket is co-sponsoring the ZOFLAT event. “HIP” considers itself the “anti- Nefesh b’Nefesh” and helps people dealing with American bureaucracy such as passport renewals, traffic tickets and the like.

Other First.One.Through Satires:

Netanyahu’s Doctoral Thesis on the Nakba

Palestinian Job Fair for Peace

Snack-Pack Inspections

The Joys of Iranian Pistachios and Caviar

ObamaCar to Address Garage Inequality

Silwan Circulars, Christmas 2014

Purim 5776/ 2016 Poem

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing trend in many Jewish communities to enhance the tradition of shaloch manot, sending gifts to their friends and neighbors on Purim.  The enhancement comes in the form of creating a “theme” for the gifts of food and candy, and including a poem.

This year, 5776 in the Jewish calendar and 2016 in the secular calendar, had various people using themes that included the US presidential race; recent movies; and popular singers.  Here is mine, that celebrated the infrequent occurrence of enjoying a leap year in both calendars.

How often is there a combined leap year
In both solar and lunar calendars?
One would need to look far and near
Measuring time with phased calipers.

Well, the year 2016 in the Gregorian tally
And 5776, in Jewish computation
Have aligned as natural allies,
And generated a special kind of elation.

You see, most of the world just adds a day
To that rump of a month in the frost.
While Jews go the all of the way-
Bringing a month to the front, embossed.

Jews have doubled the month of Adar
A month known as singularly happy.
Where sadness cannot otherwise mar
A people that is oftentimes sappy.

I yelled “Hooray! Two Adars is great!
Can we now celebrate Purim twice?”
But my rabbi set me straight-
“No, but that would have been nice.”

He suggested we double down on gifts-
Particularly, if serving alcohol.
But this shaloch manot has no fifths,
Yet the sentiment is the same, overall.

Happy Purim, Happy Purim!
Is our double exclamation!
Fill your own cup to the brim-
(Since Friday is anyway a vacation.)

Double Bubble, “Two”tsie rolls and Twix,
Are our way of highlighting the double.
Other great candy pairs are in the mix
As two foods get us out of trouble.

A bit more time to partake of the goodies,
In this year with added month and day.
But the shift will be quick for you foodies,
Since Pesach is still just a month away.

20160403_051611[1]


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A Native American, An African American and a Hispanic American walk into Israel…

Restoring the indigenous population to their land

Native Americans: Native Americans lived in the United States for millennia before Europeans discovered the land. Within a few hundred years, the Europeans overwhelmed the native population and effectively banished them from their lands and homes. To add insult to the injury, the invaders forced new religions onto the remaining tribes.

In the 20th century, Americans began to slowly reverse course and offered more rights to the Native Americans, including American citizenship in 1924. At present, the United States recognizes several hundred Native American tribes and gives them some degree of autonomy in lands of their own.

Jews: Jews have lived in the land of Israel for roughly 3700 years. They had two independent kingdoms in the land and built their holiest Temples there. Roughly 1900 years ago, Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, forced conversion on thousands of Jews, banned Jews from Jerusalem, and renamed their holy land “Palestine”. While some Jews continued to live in the Holy Land, most were dispersed throughout the world.

In the 1800s Jews began to move back to their holy land in greater numbers. While much of the land had been taken over by Arabs who invaded Palestine in the 7th century, the world sought to reconstitute the Jewish homeland as so declared in the the 1922 League of Nations Mandate of Palestine.  The British assumed their Mandate of Palestine to encourage Jewish immigration, land ownership and citizenship in Palestine in 1924, the same year that America offered all Native Americans citizenship.

From Slavery

African Americans: While the Europeans came to conquer the New Worlds of North and South America, they brought Africans with them to be their slaves.  It took hundreds of years for the United States to abolish the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Jews: The Jewish people became a nation when they emerged from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt 3500 years ago.  It was only at that time that they received the Bible and entered the promised land.

On January 1, 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln freed the black slaves in America, and just three days later, he abolished the most anti-Semitic decree in US history when he overrode General U.S. Grant’s order to expel the Jews.  In one week, Lincoln actively asserted the self-evident rights and dreams in the US Constitution, “that all men are created equal,” including blacks and Jews.

MLK

Advancing Minorities’ Interests

Hispanic Americans: Hispanics were always a decent segment of the United States population from the earliest colonies.  However, in 1964 and 1965, new laws were passed in the United States which dramatically increased their number and visibility.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination unlawful, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 ended a quota system from certain countries.  With those actions, the number of immigrants coming to the USA from Latin America jumped from 9% to 44% from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Jews: Jews were an unwelcome minority in many countries in the world, and in many parts of the United States.  Golf Clubs, universities and private clubs would not admit any Jews – some publicly, and others, privately. The same laws that addressed inequalities for black and Hispanic minorities, also helped Jews in America.

Beyond America’s shores, just a few years after the acts of 1964 and 1965, the Kingdom of Jordan which had evicted and banned every Jew from the area of Palestine it conquered in 1949, attacked Israel again.  In so doing, it lost that region of Palestine it had illegally annexed, the “West Bank.”  Israel quickly repealed the anti-Semitic bans and welcomed Jews once more.

American Minorities Come to Israel

Minority groups in America “get” the Jewish State of Israel.  African-Americans understand a history of slavery and persecution.  Native Americans understand being torn from land, culture and religion.  Hispanic Americans understand being excluded.

When these groups look at Israel, they instinctively get why the world made some attempt to rectify the long history of expelling and murdering Jews throughout Europe, Russia and northern Africa.  They have sought the same kind of consideration themselves.

But even more, when they come to Israel – to the reconstituted Jewish State – they see a success story.  They see that the vanquished can be victorious.  Where the excluded are now the leaders.  Where the defenseless are now a military powerhouse. Where a forgotten language has been reestablished.  Where a barren land has become an environmental leader.  Where a bankrupt society has become a financial success story.

Minorities that come to Israel see a country where minorities count.  Where women account for 24% of the Israeli Knesset, compared to only 16% in the US Congress.  Where Arabs represent 14% of the Knesset, versus only 8% black representatives in the US Congress.

Martin Luther King saidPeace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.

Israel is not just a success story for Jews; it is a beacon of hope for minorities around the world.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

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Wearing Our Beliefs

There are a number of English expressions in which people describe their inner feelings by describing their external appearances.

For example, “Being comfortable in one’s skin” means exuding confidence and being content with one’s appearance.  The expression “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve” dates back hundreds of years. It is meant to convey the openness of one’s emotions for the world to see. The inner feelings are plain and visible for review, scrutiny, appreciation and/ or scorn.

What an individual decides to show to the outside world oftentimes says a lot about their personal beliefs and emotions.

The way a society dresses people, also says much about such society’s beliefs.

Nazi Germany Enforced Dress Code

During the Holocaust, the Germans made certain undesirable people wear badges on their outer-garments so the people could be easily identified. Jews were forced to wear yellow stars. Gays wore pink triangles. Jehovah’s Witnesses had purple ones. These symbols were not chosen by the individual as an outward expression of their faith, but by an evil society that chose to mark people for abuse, imprisonment, torture and death.

In the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, prisoners were tattooed by the Nazis beginning in autumn 1941. The numbering system etched into the arms of men, women and children, was used almost exclusively on Jews. The system allowed the Nazis to track and process hundreds of thousands of people who were not killed immediately. The ink relayed the cold reality that these prisoners were not in charge of their bodies anymore. Society no longer recognized their names nor humanity.

The evil of Nazi Germany was not simply that they viewed the “Aryan race” as superior – they viewed others as less than human.  The Nazis marked the clothing and bodies of those Untermensch to relay the Aryan perception of these sub-humans.

auschwitz tattoo

Jews Wearing Tefillin

Jewish tradition is an important component of the Jewish religion. While there are specific laws in Judaism, such as wearing phylacteries/ tefillin, the manner in which some Judaic laws are carried out changes according to custom.  Some people wrap the tefillin around the arm in an outward motion, while others wrap them going towards the body.  Some traditions have the entire name of God appearing on the hand while others only write a portion of the three letter name of God.

When a person wraps the tefillin straps around the fingers, he recites a quote from Hosea 2:19-20: “V’erastich li l’olam; v’erastich li b’tzedek u-v’mishpat u-v’chesed u-v’rachamim; v’erastich li b’emunah; v’yadat et adonai.
And I will betroth you to myself forever; and I will betroth you to myself in righteousness and in justice, in kindness and in mercy; and I will betroth you to myself in faithfulness, and you will know God.”

teffilin
Grandfather, father and two sons wearing tefillin
(photo: First.One.Through)

Just one generation ago, the dominant force in Europe labeled Jews and stole their humanity.  Today, when Jews put on tefillin, they assert themselves and declare their connection to both God and family tradition.


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The Touch of the Sound of the Shofar

The Termination Shock of Survivors

The EU’s Choice of Labels: “Made in West Bank” and “Anti-Semite”

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